Beth South: My name is Beth South. Today’s date is August 5th, 2019, and today I’m interviewing Paul Kriese. So let’s get started. Can you tell me your name and when you were born?
Paul Kriese: My name is Paul Kriese. I was born August 15, 1943.
BS: Where did you grow up, Paul?
PK: Buffalo, New York.
BS: And where did you go to school?
PK: In Buffalo, New York.
BS: Where did you go to school after Buffalo, New York?
PK: I went to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, then I went to Kent State in Kent, Ohio, and then I went to Purdue University, and then I went to Earlham School of Religion here in Richmond.
BS: Great. Can you tell me a little bit about growing up in Buffalo, New York? A little bit about your past?
PK: Well, I grew up in a working class environment, in a working class neighborhood. I have one older brother. My father worked in a bakery. My mother worked in a bowling alley and then as things (?) closed, in a retail store.
BS: Okay. What occupations have you worked in?
PK: Oh, I’ve taught. All my life I’ve been a teacher.
BS: What did you teach?
PK: I taught Political Science. I did it part time at Miami University and then I did it full time at IU East for about thirty years.
BS: Okay. So growing up, what were your perceptions of LGBTQ people?
PK: I actually didn’t have much opinion of them at all, but what opinion I had was positive. Since everybody has a right to be who they are, and society shouldn’t decide who they are. And one of my best friends and co-colleagues was gay, and I saw all the stuff that he went through. He was a very nice guy, he just happened to like men.
BS: Were there any experiences growing up that made you question your identity?
PK: Oh yeah. I was always clear that I didn’t know… I was always clear that I didn’t think I was heterosexual. But it never really mattered to me because no one asked me, and I was just seen as that tomboy who was interested in books. And I loved to walk, so I think that’s it.
BS: Okay. Were there any early signs of your later orientation?
PK: You’re just a (?) to say because my orientation is nonsexual. And so I didn’t think much about girls, or boys for that matter. I just enjoyed having a life of my own and I just went along. Sex just didn’t play a role in my life. I mean I had as many women friends as I had men friends. And sometimes the women I knew liked me because I wasn’t hitting on them. I just treated them as ordinary human beings who I liked or didn’t like them because of their personality. So I got along pretty well with people most of the time.
BS: When you figured out this aspect of your identity, how did it impact your life? Or did it?
PK: Well, the thing that impacted it was I was finally aware of why I wasn’t interested in sexual activities. I just never gave it much thought. And then all of a sudden, I came across the term and I said “That’s me.”
BS: Do you know when that was?
PK: Yes, actually I do. It was about eight years ago at IU East. I was taking one of those courses in being friendly to LGBT people. I got one of those little placards that said “I am friendly…” and I went “Okay.” And I figured I would do that because I wanted to be supportive of those people. And I ran across the term…Have you heard the term asexual before? And I heard the term, and all of a sudden lightbulbs went off, and I said “That’s me.”
BS: So it was much later in your life?
PK: Oh, yes. As I’ve said, I didn’t have any of those teenage crushes. I was married once and that didn’t work out. I think that was partly because I wasn’t interested in my wife in any way. (?) a very nice person who I enjoyed company with and she was always asking for things that didn’t make any sense to me, and I’m not a shy person as you might well know.
BS: Interesting. So were there opportunities for you to meet others like you afterwards, or even beforehand?
PK: Actually, no. There were very few of us around, maybe a million of us in the world. I got to know some over the internet. There was a group of asexuals on the internet and they wrote a book (?) which I helped to write.
BS: Oh, what’s the book called?
PK: I don’t remember. I think it’s called The Asexual’s Guide…something like that. I don’t remember. It was printed, I think, outside New York state. But I ordered (? or don’t’ have) a copy of it.
PK: But there aren’t many of us. Actually gay people has as much trouble with asexuals as other people because they can’t understand why someone isn’t sexual. And they just happen to be same sex. And they have the same amount of problems as people who are heterosexual because they can’t imagine how someone could not be sexual. That just makes no sense to them. But asexual means just that. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have sex, it’s just that we prefer not to. And we have no real interest in it. You know, so as a boy, I didn’t sit with my friends and say “Oh, isn’t she an attractive…” Well, I understand attraction. I’m attracted to books, or a painting, or a sunset. I understand beauty, and I can understand why someone is beautiful to me. But the beauty is not sexual beauty, it’s not enough to have sexual relations with somebody.
BS: Very good. So how open are you now then, with friends, family? Does it matter at this point?
PK: Most people didn’t mind. Some people didn’t believe me (?). For most people, it didn’t matter to them. I mean, I was their friend. Except maybe they were women that I always…who were thinking of me in romantic ways, that sort of did away with that. I’m not sure that there was, but if there was, that sort of took care of that. Since there’s so few of us there isn’t…People get in trouble by being sexual, you know, but you can’t get in trouble by not. Except for the fact that people flirt and I don’t. And I’ve had people flirting with me and that makes me uncomfortable. I like to hug people, but that’s about the extent of what I enjoy doing. I get very nervous. And people think, “Well, you’re a tomboy. You just haven’t seen the world. All you have to do is find the right person.” Well, I found one person and that wasn’t a very good idea. And I realize from that that I’m happy being who I am. And I don’t need a companion in that way. I like people. I like to have friends. I like to do things with people, but I’m very content with not being sexual with anybody.
BS: Great. Since this is something that you kind of came to realize later in your life as you were, I don’t know, growing up to maybe your young adulthood, were you supportive of LGBTQ people, then?
PK: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes.
BS: I’m assuming you didn’t particularly think you were a part of that group.
PK: Very supportive. In college, I’ve said my best friend was gay, and I defended him a lot. When I came to IU East, I was the first LGBT advisor because no one else was wanting to do it. They didn’t want anyone to think they were gay, for heaven sakes. Until Denise came along, and then I lobbied for asexual people to be included, and they were very nice, but they weren’t very supportive of that. Because they didn’t understand. But anyhow…No, I’ve always been supportive. And I was supportive before I knew that because I tend to be someone who thinks people have a right to be who they are. I knew that long before. I’ve always been involved in human rights and civil rights, as you know. And so it wasn’t very difficult for me to support people.
BS: Were there…Because you said you were one of the first or probably at the time, only faculty advisor to LGBTQ students at IU East. Were there many students? How did that come about? Were there any students that were open and needed or suggested they wanted a faculty advisor that supported that? Or is that just something you fell into?
PK: I knew some that were open but Indiana is not too receptive. And so many of them stayed quiet until they ran into Denise who was a lesbian, so she could identify with them. There weren’t any asexual people. And since they were looking for people, either love mates or friends who were romantically involved, I wasn’t of much help. But as I said…And they weren’t hostile, it’s just that I couldn’t help them. But they were very nice. And LGBT people are just like anybody else, they just happen to have been born that way, as I was born that way. I didn’t realize it until later because there was no, you know, how do you recognize “not”?
BS: Didn’t have the words.
PK: Yeah. And I didn’t have those sex conversations with men because I found them demeaning to women. And so when they started doing that I would either absent (?) myself or tell them that I thought there was more to women than boobs and a vagina. And of course they didn’t want to have a conversation with me because I wasn’t very helpful, or they thought I was gay. For a long time they thought I was gay because if I didn’t like women, I must be gay.
BS: Right. Did you have any issues with that, or any people that (something. Paul talks over Beth at this point) to that?
PK: No, because…I don’t know. I just never did. I guess I knew I didn’t like men, but I never gave it much thought because sexually I wasn’t…You know it’s sort of like not being…not being happy that you’re Polish. Since you’re not Polish, you’re not happy or not happy, you just don’t think about it. Well, that was how I was with sexuality, I wouldn’t think about it. Except when people said I was gay, women knew I wasn’t. Because they could tell who was after them in a romantic way and who wasn’t. And there were some women who had said they could never understand why I wasn’t more friendly and I said “I’m only as friendly as I can be.” Actually, when I got married, the woman I married asked me to marry. It dawned on me but then I said, “Well, she’s a nice person. I expect I might get along with her.” I just thought this was friends who lived together. Of course I found out pretty shortly that it was more than friends who lived together.
BS: When was this? When did you get married? Do you know the year or decade?
PK: About twenty years ago. And was married for about fifteen.
BS: Fifteen years? You were together?
BS: That’s still a really good run for a marriage.
PK: Well, yeah, because she was a nice person. And we didn’t have sex all that often, and that’s probably because I wasn’t very interested in it. And she didn’t push. Of course we didn’t have any children. There’s also two things that I don’t pay attention to that men do. I don’t size up a woman. I don’t look at her in ways that men, or in ways that women do, that some women would. So it was never an issue with me.
BS: Interesting. Did you ever experience any bullying because of your personality or perceived sexual identity?
PK: A little, but not much. I got along pretty much with everybody. And that was partly because I wasn’t a threat. I wasn’t a threat to any of the guys who wanted relationships with the women. I wasn’t…I never asked to go out on dates. I never said “Do you want to do homework with me?” I thought that was silly, I could do homework by myself. And if people asked me, I would say yes. I remember a couple times women came over from (?) and for some reason they decided they needed to stay overnight, I said “Oh, that’s fine. There’s my bedroom, I’ll sleep on the couch.” Because I didn’t know them, why would I sleep with them? And besides, I don’t like to sleep with people. I like my own bed, and I like sleeping in my own bed. So see, all of those things are not sexual. And just because I wasn’t sexual.
BS: Great. So you said you discovered the term asexuality eight years ago or so, since then…you said you wrote a book, but have you been involved in any type of organization?
PK: Well, I was involved for…and there is an asexual group that’s on the internet, which I’ve been involved in to some extent, but that was very unsatisfying because I like to be around people. And doing that over the net wasn’t very satisfying. There is (a couple of?) asexual groups on the internet which I’ve been involved in. Asexuals tend to be in larger cities and besides, most asexuals don’t talk about it except to other asexuals because…
BS: No one understands.
PK: How do you talk about “not”? You know, if there were other asexuals around we would probably be friendly. I mean, friendship is very important to me. But since I’m not sexually involved, I don’t pick a significant other. If I had a significant other, they would just be friends. But as I said in a smaller city we don’t do that. And so I don’t think sexually. So I think about people. Now I know most people are heterosexual (?) probably more. There are probably more same sex people around than people realize, but they hide it. So, most people…I mean, I’m not unattractive. So, I’ve had women who have tried to develop relationships. And I’m more than willing to, to develop a relationship, but they soon find out that my relationship is what people call platonic. And that’s another word, I guess for asexuals, platonic. And then they naturally drift away because they see me as a nice person, nice to be around, but most of them want a spouse. And so they look other places because…Or they want to have a one night stand, or have partners before they get married. And I’m not there. I’m not them.
BS: Do you feel lonely, being in a smaller town, in terms of that sense?
PK: Yes, I do. Yes, I do feel lonely. And that’s because it’s nice to have friends. And mostly people here are either widowed or ordering (?) single. And I’ve had a couple who wanted to get more involved, and that of course hasn’t happened. It’d be nice to have people around who …A lot of people around accept me for who I am, (?) But it’d be nice to have like I had at IU East, lots of friends at IU East. And they didn’t ask anything of me except friendship. And certainly since I came out, even before I came out there were women who were interested. And knowing then, some women that I knew would come up and say “Do you know, so and so thinks you’re cute,” and my response is always “Oh, that’s nice.”
BS: Okay. Well, is there anything else you would like to add?
PK: No, I think I’ve been quite explanatory.
BS: Okay. Well, thank you very much, Paul.
PK: You’re welcome.